12 June 2008


I pride myself on a decent grasp of the English language - but terrible punctuation, I just have no patience for grammar or punctuation so forgive me in advance for flagrant use of commas and an over-fondness of dashes - and a relatively healthy vocabulary thanks to being a Reader. Studying for the GRE's last year disabused me of this notion. So many words I let float by with just a fuzzy idea of what they really mean, letting context fill in the meaning of the sentence.
Take "Ephemera". I think I had it confused with ethereal, and my guess is it meant a sort of gossamer detritus. Close, but uh, not quite.

1: something of no lasting significance —usually used in plural
: ephemera plural : paper items (as posters, broadsides, and tickets) that were originally meant to be discarded after use but have since become collectibles

In other words, I was already in love with ephemera and just didn't have the right word for it. I collect old instructional books, manuals on life and hygiene, textbooks, advertisements, instructional films - my house is full of it. (See above picture for a small sampling, on a library truck, natch.)

Why do I love ephemera? Look at the preface to the Compton's Encyclopedia. It earnestly declares a mission, wears its hearts on its sleeve:

To inspire ambition, to stimulate imagination, to provide the inquiring mind with accurate information told in an interesting style, and thus lead into broader fields of knowledge, such is the purpose of this work.

ANYWAY. I was listening to ReSound, a podcast from the Third Coast International Audio Festival, compiling radio and sound from around the world, well worth a listen. And they announced their audio contest for this year, based on the theme Ephemera. And to make it even more exciting, this year they have partnered with the Prelinger Library in San Francisco aka the library I would give my right arm to work at for a living wage. Have you seen Rick Prelinger's film archives of instructional and commercial films? No? Good lord, go now! Now!

So here's the challenge: Create a 2:30-3:00 minute audio piece that tangentially or completely references TWO of the five books the Prelinger Library has submitted for your consideration. Also include the voice of a stranger. Submit by midnight, August 3rd. Complete rules and guidelines can be found here. You can browse the complete books via the Internet Archive - I am NOT a huge fan of digitizing everything in sight, which is the current modus operandi of libraries and vastly over-discussed in Library School, trust me - but the Internet Archive does it right. They capture some elements of the tangibility of the book and the browsability too. Check it out.

Audio is low-cost, low-stress and one of the most creative mediums you can experiment in. In a situation where you may feel weird to whip out a video camera, a voice recorder goes unnoticed. People open up on tape the way they would feel too embarrassed to do on film. Audio editing programs are easily found and have a much lower learning curve than video editing programs. I'm going to make Ephemeral Audio. Won't you?


Marty Weil said...

I write an entire blog dedicated to ephemera. If you love ephemera, you'll enjoy my site. Plus, I recently posted about the Radio Ephemera project you mentioned. Thanks for giving ephemera its due.

librarianista said...

Totally unrelated to your post, but YES! We got your wonderful, wonderful package. I am so sorry I haven't mentioned it yet--it truly was the most thoughtful and amazing gift we got. Seriously. We put the framed catalog cards on the wall right away so our guests at the pizza party could see them and they were a big hit.

Anyway, I have a nearly complete little package for you (not as cool as the one we got) which will go out Monday. It actually won't include a real thank you card, but that is coming soon! We miss you guys. Come back to Seattle.


arajane said...

Ha! You know, I was the only one in book club who finished the book--no one else could bear to do it. I've heard Jane Smiley is actually a good writer, but I've never read anything else by her. You wouldn't know it from this book, though. So funny about our similar assessments regarding The Anniversary Party.

Anyhow, I don't think I've mentioned yet how much I love your new project. We signed up for a CSA this year, too, and I'm dying to get some cucumbers so I can try your perpetual pickle recipe. Yum!